I had been staring at a blank page (on my screen) for a few days now, trying to figure out the best way to communicate not just an amazing story, but also the actual amazement I felt while listening to it.
I am thankful for my conversation with Mr. Adarsh Warrier, the Co-Founder of Vicara for two reasons. Firstly, that it was a truly awesome and inspiring story and secondly, as it gave me a great refute to an argument I was having with a friend. I’ll get to the argument later. Let me share with you the entrepreneurial journey of Mr. Warrier, his company Vicara, and their product, KAI.
It started off at an Intel Hackathon in Pune. They had an objective to conceive a product which could be a single interface to control all electronic devices around them. What they came up with was (for lack of a better word) a crude device made of a rubber glove, an Intel Board, and a bunch of wires. This device was able to control a light, but it could also interface with a computer. The winner of the Hackathon was a team that made a device which could control a light as well. What was the difference between the winning team and theirs? Adarsh and his Co-founder Abhishek Satish didn’t have a PAN card. But then again, Adarsh and Abhishek were 20 year old, third year students at VIT at the time, taking part in a corporate hackathon. I sense a ‘link your Aadhaar card to your breakthrough product’ joke here but, anyway…
What they did manage to achieve here is visibility. A fellow participant at the contest, who was the CTO at a seed funded company in the ‘Internet of Things’ space, offered them an internship at his company. They grabbed the opportunity and got to experience the running of a start-up in Mumbai and loved the experience as well as the culture.
When they returned to VIT, they decided to pitch their prototype at Start-up VIT, a business plan contest in their campus. They came in second place here and won Rs. 30,000. Here they were faced with a tough choice. Whether to reinvest this money and see where this product idea can take them, or to end their start-up journey here and enjoy the spoils. They chose the former, with the condition that they would spend the money they won on improving this product. After that, they received a research grant for Rs. 10,000.
In that year, VIT on the lookout to encourage entrepreneurship, launched its first seed initiative with an award of Rs. 1 Lakh. From 100 start-ups at VIT, Vicara was one of the three that were selected. But they knew that, in order to win this, they would need to improve the design. Adarsh and Abhishek decided to invest their initial winnings to buy a 3D printer. What was more amazing was how they managed to sneak in a large and heavy 3D printer into their hostel room. You know that thing about wills and ways.
With this 3D printer, they managed to make over 15 model iterations in just 2 days, which lead them to win the prize money as well as incubation at VIT. At this point in my conversation, I said to Adarsh that it was almost like the universe was conspiring to keep them moving forward.
They got the opportunity to participate in a variety of contests which allowed them to present their concept, new design iterations and more importantly, see the feedback the people gave them. I believe that this attitude of listening to the audience is also a huge factor to their company culture.
Among the contests in which they participated, one of them was the ‘University Startup World Cup’ where they were among 3 of the start-ups from India selected to go to the finals in Copenhagen, Denmark.
What was even more amazing was that they were given two passes to come to the ‘Hello Tomorrow Global Summit’, the Top Summit in the World for upcoming technology. Each of these passes was worth Rs. 80,000. The chief guest that year (2016) was Emmanuel Macron, the then Minister of Economy and Finance of France.
The learning that Adarsh shared with me was somewhat profound (regardless of the fact that he was just 20 years old at the time) and was half of the reason behind the title of this article. The kind of tech they saw over there was light years ahead of what they could have even imagined. What they took away from this experience is that the limitations we put on ourselves are actually and entirely self-made. This is the motivation they needed to take every aspect of their venture to the next level.
They came back with a new-found inspiration to further improve their product as well as increase the scale at which they had been operating. Along with this inspiration, came a stroke of luck, where the team that had won the Startup VIT (where Vicara came second), had chosen not to go ahead with their idea. Why this was a stroke of luck was the fact that the winner also got an entry directly into the National Demo Day.
At this point in our conversation, I had almost expected that Adarsh and Abhishek would have won the competition. I was right, but what I didn’t know was that they were the only team of students to participate and win the prize money of Rs. 5 Lakh. The jury put a condition on their team, which was, that they had to incorporate their venture with the prize money and take it ahead. They did, which is where ‘Vicara’ was officially born.
In the midst of so many wow moments, it would be easy to forget that these were still college students. Now that they were soon to complete their course, they would be faced with placements. This is the part where I learnt the real importance of having the right co-founder in your team. Adarsh wanted to have a safe plan B, and decided to sit for placements, while Abhishek had made up his mind to opt out of placements and commit to this. How Adarsh later changed his mind was also a very interesting story.
On getting through several rounds of the interview process of a big MNC, Adarsh went back to his room tired, and slept off. It was the kind of deep sleep one gets when one is told that one’s interview has gone well. When he woke up, he had over 30 missed calls and messages from his placements cell, his professors and even the company representatives. The company had wanted to have another round of interview with him and was trying to reach out. When he came back to campus, he was confronted by the head of HR of the company who said to him that – it was they who would be deciding his future, and he ought to have been more careful about being so unavailable at such an important time. This was the statement that got Adarsh disillusioned with idea of placements and became the second half of the reason behind the title of this article. He dropped out of placements and decided that only he could be the decision maker of what happens in his life.
After this, Adarsh and Abhishek had completed their education and were ready to conquer the world. They soon went on to become the first team to win the Nidhi Prayas Grant without being even partly comprised of IIT students.
As it so happened, the jury members of the National Demo Day chose to be the seed investors in their venture. With their achievements so far, they received coverage in Your Story, among other start-up news websites and magazines. The most fruitful outcome of this coverage was at the Your Story Event itself, where they got the opportunity to work with a Singapore based Accelerator called Air Maker. This enabled them to quickly step into mass manufacture with the connections and experience of the accelerator to assist them.
The journey had just begun. Their ideas and concepts had got them so far, but now it was time to push through to the next level. Mass production was a whole new ball game for them, and with it came the need to expand their team. What was impressive was that in this young a stage, they decided to segregate and specialize their roles and brought in new blood to help with scaling up. Abhishek Satish was in charge of the technology while Adarsh managed the business front. Rakshith Ravi would be responsible for the software. Aditya Paranthaman was to look after the manufacturing and logistics. The UI UX Design would be handled by Vignesh S, and Manan, their in-house finance wiz would be dealing with taxation, compliance and other legal work. Three of the four people they brought in were all in college. The company was built from the foundation keeping the culture of its employees in at the top. Prior experience came after enthusiasm and eagerness to learn!
Having to integrate their idea into a PCB Board which could be produced abroad, and in large quantities at a time did test their patience. They spent about half a year perfecting the design and soon after went to launch KAI on Indiegogo.
I would normally say something on the lines of ‘the rest is history’ but in the case of Vicara, what to come next, is the future. Coming back to the argument that I was having with my friend. We were discussing about how, since the inception of the personal computer, the most common input devices were the keyboard and the mouse, and these hadn’t really changed. Obviously, not to forget about the plethora of gaming devices and more recently the advent of virtual reality, but when it comes to technology that is all pervasive, there hadn’t been much of a change. This is where I won the argument with a mention of the KAI.
I found out about the KAI through the Linkedin profile of Mr. Adarsh when I saw a video showcasing its use and decided to speak to him about his journey. This isn’t a promotional article. What was more amazing about this is that soon after I spoke to Adarsh, I saw a comment on their Indiegogo page about looking forward to using the KAI to play Fortnite. A few days later they had another video showcasing just that. Their attitude to listen to the audience hasn’t changed since the early days of their journey. With their zeal to better their product, the team and the company is definitely headed to the future. Wishing them the very best.